The Plight of Racing Santander

The Plight of Racing Santander

Racing Santander a consistent staple of La Liga since the year 2000 to 2010. They spent one season in the division below, now they sit in second place of the Segunda B division, so what happened to this La Liga regular and what caused them to fall down the footballing ladder?

Craig Thompson

It all began in January 2011 as an Indian Business Tycoon would take over the club, his name was Ashan Ali Syed. His first game in charge as owner would come against Sevilla, as Racing Santander would win 3-2, which would see a jubilant Ali Syed celebrating both fists in the air, and then raising his Racing scarf in the air proudly, as Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido sulked. 

He quickly became a popular figure not only for his passion shown, but for saving Racing Santander who were €14m in debt, Ali would be known as a saviour and a hero early on. He would pay €1.4m to the Spanish tax authorities, a regular sum that would be paid every month until the €14m was paid. €1.5m would go on owning the club, whilst €750,000 goes to the local government and majority shareholder. €450,000 went to paying the staff and players. €350,000 went to Credit Suisse for overseeing the take over. Roughly €3.5m was spent on the takeover.

Bold decisions would be made as soon as he came in with President Pernia sacking Miguel-Angel Portugal and hiring Marcelino, which would receive a good reception as he was the manager who took them to a sixth place finish and a UEFA Cup campaign in 2007. The impact on the team would be immediate as Racing would see Sevilla and Getafe off and draw 2-2 with Villarreal, moving them up to 12th place. Like many egocentric owners of La Liga talks would ensue in the media by Ali Syed of becoming the third power in the league behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Talk led to no action, during the February period just a month and a half later the club would cite that money had in fact dried up, but wasn’t this going to be start of the trifecta of La Liga? As money dried up so did performances on the pitch, a draw with Almeria and a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid and Osasuna at the beginning of March. The sad thing for Racing is it wasn’t too long ago that red flags should have popped up. During a previous bid into a takeover at Blackburn Rovers unpaid council tax had been investigated, however it was quickly dismissed by his lawyers as essentially ‘fake news’ after being reported by the BBC. Other ‘fake news’ reported during this period by Marca showed documents showing his company agreeing a loan deal of up to $155m. Johnson the applicant of the loan would pay $1.25m and $1.2m to Ali Syed, but would never receive any loan money.

The €50m for transfers was nowhere to be seen and was hushed, whilst the next €1.4m to the taxman was nowhere to be seen, forcing the club to seek a loan to pay it. The players themselves expressed concerns during this period, although their monthly pay was paid, the actual salary of the players was still in question as players were still owed up to €1.7m from the previous year. First team players like Pinillos and Gonzalo Colsa had been told the issue had been resolved when Ali Syed stepped in. However, this promise was not kept, a second promise would take place...then a third with an added bonus if they beat Levante...then the fourth. The payment would never be made. Leading to Marcelino and players looking to jump ship.

The beginning of the 2011-2012 season would see Marcelino leave to Sevilla out of fears of a repeat at Zaragoza with broken promises and failed payments. Incoming players into the club would only come from free transfers and loan deals. Hector Cuper would take charge, some would think a great appointment, but after just one win in thirteen games he would face the sack. Racing Santander were bottom. Attendances in the ground would drop from 20,000 to 13,000. Players would walk, eight of them in fact. The owner would be gone too.

Interpol would begin an investigation into Ali Sayed’s business dealings and he would eventually cut off all contact with the Racing board. This saw his losses cut at around the €3.5m mark he had invested. Racing Santander were facing administration as the monthly repayments would have interest growing as the club still owed the state up to €10m. This forced the hand of the club to take another loan as players went without pay.

Racing would be declared bankrupt with debts around €50m, administrators would take over the club and take legal action against Syed to recover the shares. The Cantabrian government wanted control back of the club, and ex-majority shareholder Jacob Montalvo would want his shares back. This left the scramble for power with the fans and the club the one’s suffering as Racing would remain bottom and start the fall down to the third tier of Spanish football.

As the case would be taken to courts, fan groups organised themselves to save the club, but they would not be free of Ali just yet as lawyers turned up to keep the club in his control for the time being. It wasn’t until December 2013 that Ali was deemed unfit to run the club, and he had not actually paid the previous owner for the club. Pernia would stand trial for match fixing in November 2013. 

On the pitch Racing would pull of a miraculous Copa Del Rey run, first beating Sevilla over two legs and then Almeria, two first division teams would be knocked out by third tier Racing Santander. Fans would hold up banners and sing how the players deserve to wear the shirt, whilst calling for the club to pay them.

Angel Lavin nickname “Harry” had failed to pay the players in three months. Paco Fernandez the manager had previously worked as a teacher and quit his job to manage Racing and had went without pay with his staff for even longer. The situation is made more complicated at the third tier as the law that players are allowed to walk away free after not being paid does not apply here as it does not count as a professional level. During the Copa Del Rey run players would protest. During the first game against Almeria, Racing players would stand still for 20 seconds. Supporters during this game would climb up to the directors box and protest. Angel Lavin would claim the protests as ‘ridiculous’. Angel Lavin would be called into courts and questioned on “disloyal administration”, due to a report showing that €4m had went missing. The club had spent €700,000 on legal fees to protect Angel Lavin, Pernia and even Ali Sayed.

The team went onto the quarter-final stage of the Copa Del Rey and were drawn against Real Sociedad. The first leg was won 3-1 by Sociedad, however Racing Santander players would announce that they would protest the next leg if Angel Lavin isn’t relieved of his duties. Kick-off came with no sign of the board budging, the players strolled up the centre circle, formed a line hand in hand as fans cheered. The referee would abandon the game. “Right now we have mixed feelings of sadness and a kind of joy but it is a shame it had to come to this,” Javi Soria said. “We have had things clear in our minds since Monday and we have showed tonight we are a team. We hope things get sorted out because we just want to get back to playing and try to make Racing the best it can be. We have done this for the good of football, for the good of a city and for the whole of Spain because there are lots of similar cases and we wanted to set an example.”

Santander would be banned from the 2014-2015 Copa Del Rey after failing to pay a fine of around €3,000. Angel Lavin would be gone by January, however Santander would remain in the Segunda Division B and just barely survive liquidation relying on donations to raise the €400,000 ($514,000) guarantee demanded by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) for the club to join the Spanish third division.
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